Newly seated Kentucky horse panel eyes steroid ban

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky's racing officials are preparing to vote soon on whether to ban steroids for racehorses.

Gov. Steve Beshear disbanded the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority last week and replaced it with the renamed Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Some of Beshear's hand-picked board members said after an organizational meeting Wednesday that the governor made the changes in part because he wants the steroid issue put on a faster track.

"I know he's very against steroids and he wants us to be a leader as far as the treatment of horses," said Tracy Farmer, the commission's new vice chair. "This is our No. 1 industry in the state. We want to make the right decisions, and not next year. This thing has been studied to death."

Executive director Lisa Underwood said she expects the commission will vote on a steroid ban by the end of the summer. It holds its regular July meeting on Monday, then will next meet in August.

Although at least 10 states have approved a model steroid ban being touted across the industry, the host state of the Kentucky Derby remains a high-profile holdout.

Movement against steroids gained steam after the Triple Crown races this year. Big Brown cruised to victory in the Derby and Preakness with a legal steroid in his bloodstream, then didn't get a dose before the Belmont Stakes and was eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux, finishing last.

There remains debate as to how much steroids can improve a horse's performance, considering that often in racing, huge bulk can hamper a competitor. Originally horses took steroids for medical reasons, but lately some studies have shown the drugs spike an animal's appetite and speed up muscle repair after rigorous workouts.

A Kentucky drug research council, led by former authority vice chair Connie Whitfield, created a subcommittee that could recommend a steroid ban as early as next week. However, Whitfield, wife of Republican congressman Ed Whitfield, was among the board members not retained by the Democratic governor. She didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press Wednesday.

Robert Beck, who remains as the commission's chairman, said there are fewer barriers now to enacting a ban, but he didn't specify which ones were there previously.

"I think we're going to be able to streamline some of the processes and get some things done quicker than maybe we were before the reorganization," Beck said.

The swearing-in of new board members came just one day after the arrival of the commission's new medical director, Mary Scollay. Scollay had previously served as a veterinarian at two Florida racetracks and has been working on compiling a national database to track thoroughbred fatalities.

Scollay says she'll need to take a little time to examine the potential steroid tests Kentucky is considering giving to horses, but she says she supports moving swiftly on the issue.

"It's absolutely a priority, and I don't think there's anybody who would dispute that," Scollay said. "We need to do it, and we need to move forward. Philosophically we're all very close to being on the same page."